Geneticists team up to tackle boar meat taint

Geneticists at JSR, the UK’s leading pig genetics company, are uniting with top research scientists at The University of Guelph, Ontario and representatives from major abattoirs, to tackle the persistent problem of boar taint.

Using the most advanced gene marker technology, the multi-talented team is aiming to identify genes responsible for high levels of androstenone and skatole – the two compounds that cause boar taint – enabling them to accelerate the ‘low taint’ selection process. Eventually, it is hoped boar taint could be virtually eliminated across the different breeds, boosting the popularity of pigmeat worldwide.

Scientists at Guelph have focused on the two ways levels of boar taint compounds can be reduced; by decreasing their synthesis and increasing their metabolism. Now, by identifying the candidate genes controlling skatole and androstenone levels and using markers responsible for the different functionalities of the genes, they will identify pigs with undetectable boar taint.

This has far reaching advantages, believes Steve De Brabandere of the University’s Business Development Office. “Working alongside JSR gives our research not only added impetus but real, practical focus. Lines offering low boar taint will mean males won’t have to be routinely castrated to avoid the problem. While castration effectively reduces boar taint, it also has repercussions in terms of compromised growth and pig welfare.”

Initially, 32 markers were identified from 18 genes tested in eight commercial lines – involving 1300 pigs in total – with significant marker effects in the different breeds.

Now, however, a more complete set of 140 DNA markers from more than 30 genes has been identified and the team is currently testing these markers in both the research cohort and animals from commercial lines to establish those that are most effective.

Dr Grant Walling, Director of Research and Genetics at JSR believes the research is nearing fruition. “It is always our intention to prove the worth of our research in the real world. With respect to this project, our ultimate aim is to produce a ‘toolbox’ that can be used to provide boar taint solutions throughout the different commercial breeds.

“At the moment, different markers show a varying degree of association in the individual breeds. With the expertise and support of our partners at the University of Guelph we expect huge strides toward getting values of androstenone and skatole well below the sensory threshold, and we hope in the near future to be able to develop a line of pigs in which boar taint is undetectable to human taste.”

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